HAVING ARRIVED AT Texas A&M this fall with bogglingly fast credentials and her name all over the prep all-time lists from 300 through 1000m, Athing Mu, as her Aggie coaches get further acquainted with the precocious New Jerseyan, is in more than one sense prioritizing pacing.
Mu had a highly productive January ’21. Within a span of 15 days she set a new American Junior 800 Record (2:01.07) and a new Collegiate 600 Record (1:25.80) before reeling off a 50.02 anchor carry on an A&M 4×4 effort to wrap the month.
Apparently just getting started, Mu spectacularly carried her building momentum into February and circled the track twice in 50.52 at the Thomas Invitational, an A&M home meet. With two governing bodies not quite on the same page viz record ratification requirements, the 400 clocking — which lifted Mu to =No. 4 all-time on the American and Collegiate lists — bettered the World Junior standard (Sanya Richards’ 50.82 from ’04) yet left the Aggie sensation 0.16 shy of Sydney McLaughlin’s 50.36 ratified AJR from ’18.
The next weekend A&M’s 4×4 squad sped to a 3:26.27 Collegiate Record at the Tyson Invitational, Mu anchoring in 50.27.
She says, “My biggest improvements from the past couple months that I’ve been here have helped me with pacing. It’s allowed me to grow more confident than I have ever been. I know that I’m strong now and I can go into races knowing that I can finish the way I want to finish.
“[Aggie assistant Milton Mallard] is my event coach that I work with daily, but coach Henry comes in every day during practice to check in and ask how the workouts are going.”
After Mu’s 800 opener, A&M head Henry gave a candid assessment: “She wants to be the best ever that stepped on the track. Watching her, you can see this kid has things not many can do.”
Considering that two years ago Mu — guided since age 8 by Trenton TC coach Al Jennings — set the overall American Record for 600 (1:23.57) in winning against pros at the USATF Indoor, the A&M staff is looking to bring her to full sharpness for ’21 and beyond at a measured rate.
“First as a freshman,” Henry says, “you gotta start figuring out your academics and being able to balance your academics with your athletics — and understand how important both of them are to you. That’s the first thing, but from an athletic standpoint, staying healthy training at a level where you can stay healthy, not overdoing it. We’re still learning about her, what her ultimate kinds of capabilities are right now.
“Milton is doing a great job. We, of course, work right together every day, but Milton is her direct contact. We work side by side every day with the 8 and 4 people, but Milton has followed a plan that we have put together.”
In other words, the Aggie coaches are parceling out Mu’s progress for the long haul. Yet Henry admits that ’21 entangles the path with a consideration no coach would ever wish upon his arch-rival, C19.
“Normally we kind of almost pace ourselves into a season,” Henry says. “I mean, you compete at a level of almost like, ‘OK, let’s get the motor going and let’s get involved in this competition and let’s walk away from the competition and feel good about it.’ And then let’s train hard and then let’s try to get to the next competition and let’s try to get a little bit better.
“This season because of this infection and because of the contact-tracing and every issue associated, you have to hit the ground running because the first opportunity that you’re healthy you better try to get a mark out there. Because if you don’t, you could be left out of the national championships or left off an SEC team because you didn’t establish yourself early and you could get sick late, or you could be contact-traced after your first meet. Or right now.
“Right now if you were contact-traced, the amount of days you have to be out, it starts getting to where you might not be able to compete at the SEC Championships. So establishing yourself and establishing a mark early was a little bit more of a priority this year than it has been ever for me for my groups. You know, we hit the ground hard.”
Mu’s terrific split on that end-of-January 4×4 raises a question: Might she pursue the 400?
“I think she’d run the mile if you ask her to,” Henry answers. [Note that as a 9th-grader Mu won the frosh mile at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, running 4:59.48.] “You know, she’s just one of those athletes who just has a great time running. Of course, she’s very talented. So, you know, she feels good about her abilities. And [a 400 outing will] be in the plans. When we do that, I’m not real sure. I mean, we could do that this weekend and we’ve talked a little bit about it, but I don’t know exactly what we’ll do until we see some field sizes.
“We’re still kind of bouncing things around. I kind of want to look at what the possible fields would be and certain issues, certain things. An athlete like her and an athlete like [collegiate men’s 400 leader at 45.03] Bryce Deadmon and some of those kinds of kids, you know, we’ve got to kind of pick and choose some competitions right now because this year is a completely different year.”
Pointing, at least for now, toward a Kinesiology major, Mu is trying her level best to roll with whatever her frosh year brings — and keep the mood light.
“I love coach Mallard so much, he is such a funny guy,” she says. “He makes practice fun and brings a lot of diversity when it comes to practice. We work distance, short stuff and fast work, he mixes it up well and I enjoy that because that was the one thing that I appreciated with my coach prior to Texas A&M.
“Coming here and having a similar style of training helped out a lot.”